A proposal aimed at expediting the process to locate and build schools in Loudoun County appears to be losing momentum among the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisors Dec. 11 sent to the Transportation and Land Use Committee an amendment to the county's zoning ordinance calling for public schools to be permitted as “by right” uses in some non-commercial zoning districts. The measure is intended to reduce the time and expense associated with each county school being required to go through “special exception” permitting.
But the county Planning Commission opposed changing the special exception process largely because of the potential negative impacts it could have on the public process.
Supervisors, too, were skeptical of the unintended consequences the change could have.
Additionally, constructing and planning for schools often has a substantial impact on the surrounding community, several residents said during the Dec. 11 public hearing.
As “by-right,” a public hearing on certain new school sites may not be required.
“Allowing school siting by-right in rural districts can result in major impacts and significant costs for the rural economy, which the staff report unfortunately fails to address,” said Malcolm Baldwin, a member of the county's Rural Economic Development Commission.
“I do think the staff plays a good part when they bring forward fiscal impact analysis and studies, but nothing replaces public input …,” Kelli Grim, a Purcellville resident, told supervisors. “I've lived here almost seven years and I've seen a chipping away and a decay, mostly the last couple of years, of the value of that public input.”
There are 41 zoning district in Loudoun County, seven of which don't permit public schools, according to a county report. Twelve zoning districts allow public schools without additional regulations (performance standards). The PD-H zoning district allows public schools as a permitted use with no additional regulations, provided it is shown on the Concept Development Plan. The remaining 22 districts allow public schools by special exception, again without specific additional regulations (performance standards). A full list of the districts can be found at Loudoun.gov.
While enthusiasm for the proposed amendment lagged, several supervisors expressed hope the committee would continue studying the issue, in hopes of finding time- and cost-savings.
“It's well-known in the county that we have a problem with building schools early enough, in the right places and with an acceptable public process. This item address the need to shave some time off the construction process … ,” said Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). “While I agree with the concept of shaving off some time on the construction of schools, I don't agree at the expense of negatively impacting citizens and not providing enough public input.”
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